Abstract In semiarid climate soils, the establishment of a plant cover is fundamental to avoid degradation and desertification processes. A better understanding of the ability of plants to promote soil microbial processes in these conditions is necessary for successful soil reclamation. Six different plant species were planted in a semiarid soil, in order to know which species are the most effective for the reclamation of semiarid areas. Six years after planting, the rhizosphere soils were studied by measuring chemical (pH, electrical conductivity, total organic carbon and other carbon fractions), physical (% of saggregates), microbiological (microbial biomass carbon and soil respiration), and biochemical (dehydrogenase, phosphatase, β-glucosidase and urease activities) parameters. In general, in all the soil–plant systems plant nutrients, organic matter and microbial activity increased compared to the control soil. For some species, such as Rhamnus lycioides, the increase in the total organic carbon content (TOC) in the rhizosphere zone was almost 200%. A positive correlation was found between TOC and water-soluble carbon ( p<0.001); both parameters were negatively correlated with electrical conductivity. Microbial biomass carbon and soil respiration were highest in the rhizosphere of Stipa tenacissima (98% and 60%, respectively, of increase on soil control values) and Rosmarinus officinalis (94% and 51%, respectively, of increase on soil control values). These microbiological parameters were correlated with the percentage of stable aggregates ( p<0.01). Enzyme activities were affected by the rhizosphere, their values depending on the shrub species.